Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Great Livestock Guardian Experiment of 2009 - Part II: Courtney and Lucy in a Tent (by Courtney McDonald)

Continuing where I left off ... we sadly had to return Chester to Dan. Now I had 18 ewes in my care in the pasture, hopefully ready to lamb over the next few weeks. Leaving them without a guardian was out of the question, so I decided (with Dan's approval) to set up my tent in the pasture and guard the sheep myself.

There are coyotes out here for sure, as well as other predators. I have seen their scat around the barn behind the house where a group of deer were living before Chester came. I can hear the coyotes singing at night and I remember what coyotes can do to livestock from growing up in the country. I have learned from Dan that coyotes are somewhat lazy predators and will always look for the easiest meal possible. Even a girl with a flashlight is reason enough for them to go looking for dinner elsewhere.

At first (actually for the duration of my camp out), Eric thought I had lost my mind. Sleeping outside with the sheep? In my own mind it was an important learning experience. I really wanted to keep the sheep in our pasture. Having these animals at home 24 hours a day was going to round out what I was learning at the ranch as an intern. And to have the opportunity to do it was, well, when might this ever be possible again?

So over the next 32 nights Lucy, our dog, and I slept outside with the ewes. I had a high-powered flashlight by my side at all times. The weather was a little crazy during their stay; one night the wind and rain was so bad that I had to stay inside.

I learned all kinds of things about the sheep in the dark ... the most surprising of which was that they graze at night. I often awoke in the middle of the night when their grazing migrated to right outside my tent. The sound of their munching became a comforting sound. And every morning without fail, when I opened the tent the flock of ewes were laying as close to the tent as they could get, as though they knew I was there to watch over them. That's what I like to think, anyway - in reality I was probably just a convenient wind block.

Throughout this time, I was moving their grazing paddock every other day or so, along with the tent, and trimming and treating feet as necessary. After about a week a few of the ewes would come up to me to pet them, which I could never do before. Everyday I would walk through them to see if any were getting close to lambing.

One day, a ewe's udder began to fill, signalling that she was close to lambing. I watched here like a hawk, and what seemed like an eternity (probably a couple of weeks), she had a very cute mule ewe named Chiquita.

Two days later the ewes had grazed the entirety of our pasture, so it was time for them to leave. I was so happy to have kept them at my own house, and on top of that for a lamb to have been born there. I'll call it my "immersion shepherd" experience, and I would recommend it to anyone.

1 comment:

  1. You are amazing Courtney! Thank you for sharing these inspiring tales with us :)